is safer bet than set-aside
Miserable market prospects
have hit barleys popularity
hard. But is the crop really so
unattractive? Charles Abel
sought the views of a top
POOR yields, poor quality and poor prices are all driving growers away from barley. Some believe set-aside may be a more profitable alternative. But careful costings tell a different story.
"Many growers, particularly in the south-west, north and on mixed farms, are talking about increasing set-aside rather than sowing barley," notes Charles Bradfield, managing director of Masstock Farm Consultancy.
"But if you look at margin over direct costs that may not be the right way to go. At current prices quality spring malting barley certainly looks more attractive than the winter crop and more profitable than additional set-aside."
His figures consider all the costs associated with producing a crop to arrive at a true reflection of its value on a specific farm. Stubble to stubble operations, drying and storage costs and interest on variable costs all feature.
Using typical farm figures, spring malting barley offers almost £65/ha (£26/acre) more profit than a top notch winter variety and a further £31/ha (£12.50/acre) over a low quality winter malting barley sample.
At todays lower crop prices the lower yield is more than offset by savings from fewer cultivations and application passes, less fertiliser and spray, less grain to dry and store and a shorter period of interest payments on crop inputs. Premiums reflect those on offer this year, Mr Bradfield adds.
The figures also reveal how frail the additional set-aside argument is. Although it appears more profitable than winter barley and only £33/ha (£13.35/acre) less profitable than spring malting barley, that calculation assumes that operational costs can be cut to £8.75/ha (£3.54/acre), notes Mr Bradfield.
"Many growers will find that difficult to achieve because it means substantial reductions in unused labour and getting rid of equipment to reduce depreciation. Not all growers will be able to do that.
"There is a big risk that growers may be tempted to go for extra set-aside, but will not adjust their overheads to make the most of the potential savings."
Adding the value of straw to barley outputs leaves set-aside even less attractive, he notes. Indeed farm specific details must be used to guide decisions.
"While the typical costs in the table may provide a guide it is imperative growers consider their own circumstances," Mr Bradfield advises.
He urges growers to ask themselves:
• What is the yield and quality potential of the different crops on this farm?
• What are my costs?
• Is there sufficient capacity to store and combine the crop when it is ripe?
• Must the crop be sold at harvest?
• Are operational costs variable or fixed?
• Which variety suits this farm situation best?
"Only if you look at all those issues can your arrive at a reasonable decision. Having gone through that process you may well find spring malting barley has the edge." *
Barley v set-aside
Winter barley Spring barley Set-aside
Feed Low High Feed Malt
Yield (t/ha) 7.5 7.0 6.0 6.0 5.5
Price (£/t) 68 73 90 68 90
Area aid (£/ha) 241 241 241 241 241 306
Seed 42 47 50 47 50
Fertiliser 82 75 75 75 60
Spray 125 125 125 90 90 20
GM 502 505 531 437 536 286
Stubble to stuble
operations 249 249 249 194 194 9
storage 34 31 27 27 25
Var cost interest 12 11 12 10 9 1
MODC/ha 207 214 243 206 308 276